St. Louis

By: Henry Bost

This was probably one of the most hectic weeks we’ll have on gap. From the plague striking our group in full form, human sized fooseball, to this weird orangey harvest moon thing I’m sitting under right now, we’ve been all over the place. I spent the majority of 3 days lying around the house, afflicted by the sickness that swept through our cohort. That was pretty miserable, but in all honesty it was nice to have some peace and quiet and escape the full fledged energy of the group during the day. It has started to get more and more stressful, being surrounded on all sides by the same people 24/7, but I have found that with this increased level of tension comes an equally increased level of camaraderie and fellowship. We’ve been joking around more, taking more walks/going on more small adventures to break up the monotony of our everyday activities. It seems like people are starting to get more of a sense for which members of the group they are most comfortable with and engaging them in new ways, but I also think that we’ve also maintained a cohesive and supportive group dynamic that involves and includes everyone. It has been really interesting to see how we’ve developed and evolved as a group this past week. It seems like some people are thinking more and more about our fall break and the escape that that will provide from this intense experience (I know I am), but everyone has really stayed engaged and present in what we are doing. It seems like everyone is ready to pull through and finish strong so that we can truly enjoy the benefits of meaningful service and feel good about what we’ve accomplished when we finally get our respite.

Pushing Through the Pain

By: Jill Salvucci
So I am not sure how many of you readers are aware but over the past week the gap
group has acquired the plague. A plague that consisted of a lot of vomiting, fevers, and just all around feeling like death. I was unfortunate enough to get the plague at the beginning of the week. In my opinion, the worst part was waking up and all you want to do is roll over and pretend that you have no responsibilities for the day. On Monday I let myself succumb to the desire to just sleep the day away. At the end of the day I felt refreshed but unaccomplished. I knew that I could have served people in need today but I chose to sleep. I told myself the next day I was getting up, in whatever state I was in, and going to work. No excuses.

Tuesday morning rolled around and I did not feel the best. But then I remembered, during NOLS it did not matter how you felt when you woke up you still needed to get your butt up, pack you bag, and walk the 7 miles you had planned. You had no choice, there was a goal put in place and if you didn’t reach it then you were just making more work for yourself in the future. I needed to get back into my NOLS mindset. How hard could it be to garden for a couple hours compared to that?
We arrived at City Seeds and I put myself right to work. I shoveled, I hoed, and I
wheeled dirt back and forth to be dumped out. I put as much effort as I could to make up for the day before and that day. At the end of the day I felt even better then I did when I slept. I felt like I made worth of my day. I think that really feeling accomplished is what got me over my sickness, just being in such an active and great mindset all day was the medicine I needed to defeat the plague.

Halfway There

By: Marin Williams

It is hard to believe our group is already halfway through our service portion of The Gap Semester. This past week in St. Louis has been uber eventful. Every one of us received our green thumbs from working in urban school gardens. We went to a Cardinals baseball game, the first MLB game some of us have ever been to. We were able to see some of the attractions St. Louis had to offer like the Gateway Arch, the City Museum, and local farmers market.

One of my highlights this week was volunteering at Operation Food Search on Tuesday. The organization received donated food and distributed it to people in the community in need. They told us about the variety of people they serve, ranging from veterans to elementary school kids. Our tasks were to sort through food donations and create meals for students enrolled in elementary school. Our group was able to package 1,553 meals. This food was distributed to children on Fridays for them to have over the weekend. Operation Food Search provided meals every weekend for these kids throughout the school year. In addition this organization taught local cooking classes on how to create healthy meals on a budget to low-income families.

St. Louis faces many problems concerning food availability. Lower income families do not have as much access to fresh produce because of the price.  This often is a contributing factor to why obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are strongly correlated with income. The work Operation Food Search was doing was really valuable to the communities of St. Louis because they provided the education and tools needed to live a healthier nutritious lifestyle.

A Day in St. Louis

By: Gabe Thornton

Waking up for the first time in weeks on my own accord and not to an alarm was a pleasant change of pace on this dark Saturday morning. The clock read 11:30am. I almost missed the morning entirely. Thankfully those of us who wanted to go into town that day were leaving at 12 leaving me just enough time to shower off and grab some food before heading into the vans. Only 4 of us including myself had decided to venture into downtown St. Louis. Gabe, Laurie, KP, and Andrew. A small party but a party nonetheless.

Our first destination was the Arch otherwise known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. An incredibly long line prompted us to skip the ride to the top but the visitor’s center was there to offer us a wealth of knowledge instead. The center was located within the old courthouse of St. Louis and was in fact the location of the beginnings of the infamous court case involving Dred Scott and the legality of slavery in US territories in the 1850’s.

After exploring the museum for a little while longer, our small group made its way to the St. Louis Bread Co. for lunch. This sounds unique but it turns out it is just what they call Panera Bread here in the city. After lunch we bought our tickets for the City Museum. Leading up to this point we had been told the City Museum was like a giant playground for adults. The amount of overzealous children we encountered in the main lobby told me it wasn’t just for adults. Small children aside, there were people of all ages climbing through the web like maze of steel and would that decorated the interior of this artistic place. It was like an enormous wrought iron jungle gym mixed with a modern art museum that had an affinity for exhibits about slides and obscure animal sculptures. Never had I been to a place quite like this.

We saw as much as we could of St. Louis’s largest playground museum before heading into downtown to find more food. Elizabeth had decided to sit the museum out in favor of a presumably more enjoyable cup of coffee. We had agreed upon a time to meet back up and had a good hour to kill yet. Being National Batman Day we naturally had to go into the Star Clippers comic book store on the street corner. The sign out front said “free comic for your best batman impression” I couldn’t let this deed go undone. I gave them my best batman impression which was filmed and put on their facebook page. Leaving the comic book store feeling quite accomplished with my free comic in hand we stepped into the Lucas Park Grille for a pleasant second lunch and some football. We then contacted Elizabeth, met up at the van and found our way back home.

There is something to be said about a day that I thought for sure I had ruined by sleeping in, being turned around into a really pleasant memory from this trip. It was a day filled with history, art, good food, even better friends, and Batman. What more could I ask for on my day off.

The Other Side

By: Andrew Novinski

This week in St. Louis was really a recovery week for a lot of people in our group. We never had our entire group out working once this week due to sickness.  Throughout the week we worked with several different organizations including, Operation Food Search, City Seeds Urban Farming, Food Outreach, and Gateway Greening. I enjoyed working with each group as indirect as our service was at times. I ended up learning more about the city than simply going there for community service. I got to experience the other side of the racism that is still a large problem in St. Louis.

One of the days we worked on a neighborhood community garden in a really awful part of town. Hearing an 85 year old African American woman talk about how she has lived in this same neighborhood for 54 years and sent all of her 11 children through college was very powerful. She talked to us about how back in the day her streets were split one side black and the other side white and that the children actually played and everyone got along. As the years went by and poverty began to be an issue more and more low income families moved into the neighborhood, it became the dangerous stereotypical neighborhood that every privileged white person thinks about. This woman, Miss Lovie touched on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and she said the boy had been having trouble with the police on and off and that the true problem lied in the parenting. Miss Lovie raised all of her kids in the same atmosphere and she says there is definitely two sides to this problem. It was very powerful to hear this from an elder. She also pointed out that back in her day the police walked around instead of hiding in their cars and really got to know the neighborhood. I had never really thought of it in that perspective.

That was simply one of the days we experienced in our whirlwind of a week in St. Louis and each day was very different and rewarding in its own way. I enjoy the change in our environment each week for service and I am excited to see how I will adapt in our next week.

Wisdom of the Elders

By: Lyn Nelson
For the first 16 years of my life I feel like I was too young to appreciate visiting my grandfather. Whenever he would tell stories I would spend my time tugging at my moms shirt hoping she would put a pause on the story allowing me to go do my own thing which unfortunately seemed to be more important to me at the time. In these last few years I have grown to appreciate visiting my grandfather and the many stories he has to share, yet I still feel like I’m not fully present when I do visit him. I have always believed that the most important thing you could do when your grandpa is telling you a three hour story is to respectively nod every so often even if
your mind is floating off in another direction. I never concluded until now that the most important thing one could do while listening to their grandpa speak is to not just try to listen but to try to learn as much as you can from the story he is telling you.
In the Lakota culture grandmothers and grandfathers pass on their wisdom to the younger generations to that they know how to properly fulfill their roles as Lakota men and women. Each day during our experience on the reservation Ted would share with us “the wisdom of the elders.” Stories that were written by the Lakota elders that were meant to give each day a deeper purpose for our service on the reservation. The Lakota culture reiterated to not only respect your elders but to learn from them as much as possible because once they die, their knowledge dies.
I learned from some of the elderly clients at City Seeds that it is never too late steer life in a positive direction. During my conversation with 85 year old Ms. Lovie I focused on getting her to speak as much as she could, so I could take with me her wisdom. I have also learned through conversing with my elders on this
experience to appreciate the little things in life and of course to always learn as much as I can. I hope to not only learn from the elders who are around me now, but that when I go back home I will be able to sit down with my grandfather and absorb the wisdom I have finally grown to understand. Just two weeks before I departed for my gap semester I made a trip up to Charlotte to see my 92 year grandfather. During my visit there was this lingering thought that this could be the last time I ever get to see him. As I am learning more on my experience about the importance of our elders I am hoping I will have the opportunity to go back home and let him share with me his stories for as long as he pleases.

10 Things I Learned This Week

By: Laurie Heggedal

  1. Sickness can be passed along at an impressively fast rate when there are 15 students living in close proximity to each other.
  2. If you would like to know how to avoid getting that sickness, ask Lyn or Elizabeth Coder.
  3. Placing a beach towel under the mattress springs can reduce the loud creaky noises that the bunk beds make when slept on (Marin taught be that one).
  4. Gardening and watering flowers can be very therapeutic and relaxing.
  5. Indirect volunteering may feel less rewarding to the volunteer at times, but is just as important and helpful as direct volunteering.
  6. Fundraising for a non-profit organization is a lot more glamorous (or unglamorous, if you’re looking at it from my perspective) than volunteering.
  7. Bronchitis is not fun to have.
  8. The church’s house that we stayed in all week used to be an orphanage in 1914.
  9. Cave ecosystems are very interesting, and have organisms without eyes or pigment because they never see the sun.
  10. Indiana does not follow the time change and is one hour ahead of Missouri, meaning that you will lose a much-needed hour to write your weekly essay and blog post and will end up in the grass at midnight in front of the cabin that you’re staying in because everyone is inside sleeping when you’re trying to write your assignments during the hour that you lost. (:

A Different Kind of Service

By: Marta Djalleta

September 23, 2015

Today we participated in a different kind of service. Rather than working directly for the cause of the charity, we were behind the scenes working to help fund the organization. Our job was to serve food at a progressive-style dinner, which collected proceeds for Food Outreach. This organization works to provide healthy meals and packaged meals to patients and families who are affected by HIV/AIDS or cancer. The event was held at the Modern Art Museum of St. Louis. Guests spent $100 for a six course meal from six different upscale restaurants in the city. The event was called Dining by Design, which featured a local furniture designer’s tables and chairs. As guests enjoyed their first course, the furniture designer greeted them and told them about his company and the pieces that he brought with him tonight. While the proceeds, were directed to Food Outreach, it was clear that some guests were unaware of where their money was going and many did not care to ask about the organization.

I have previously been to other large upscale non-profit events but this seemed to be the first of its kind. Many of the events that I had previously been to had focused largely on the mission of the non-profit and made it a point to highlight all of the good they have done so far, what they still have left to do, and how those at the event can help them achieve more. At the event tonight, the only mentioning of Food Outreach came from one small poster, and our aprons that had the name written on it.

Despite the fact that this was a third party event, meaning it was not directly organized by Food Outreach, I personally feel like it would have been a lot more effective to have a speaker or a short presentation to educate the guests and make more people aware of their organization that is doing really great things for deserving people. Although Food Outreach got a majority of the proceeds from the night, the event felt like a missed opportunity to gain more donors. Even though the night did not go as I thought it should, it was a great insight to the other side of non-profits. I am very interested in working in the non-profit sector in the near future. Therefore, it was a very useful experience for me to see where a large portion of funds for non-profits derive from.

Critical Eye

By: Eliza Upton

Sometimes I like to believe that this semester has aged me ten plus years. Some days I get into bed feeling like a ninety or thirty year old, but when I rest my head on the American flag neck pillow I bought at a gas station in Iowa because I wasn’t smart enough to bring a real pillow on the trip, I am reminded that I’m only eighteen. Though I may not be aging more rapidly than normal, I can firmly say that my critical eye is strengthening. As I talked about in one of our group debriefs this week, I’ve always considered myself a positive person. Often I find myself grazing over details in order to look at a situation as optimistically as possible. But as my exposure to harsher realities has widened I’ve found myself peering into the means of those details I so quickly used to brush off. During our service portion of Gap I have been challenged to ask questions, wonder why things are they way they are, and try to figure in my own impact into the grand scheme of things.

In St. Louis I found myself analyzing just about everything. One example occurred when we worked at Project Food Search, a local non-profit that provides meals and support for hungry people in St. Louis. We spent the afternoon putting together bagged meals for children to take home on the weekends, and when putting cans of green beans and mandarin oranges into plastic grocery bags, I easily criticized the nutritional content that these meals were actually providing for those hungry children and was frustrated by the environmental impact all those plastic bags would have. When I noticed all the criticisms I was making I was immediately embarrassed. Here was this incredible organization that worked hard to provide people with food and the green beans I was bagging, that would no doubt make some kid very happy, weren’t up to my privileged fresh fruit and vegetable standards.

It was after a few moments of embarrassment I started to rationalize. My desire for those kids to receive a substantial meal with fresh food was not a snobby one. It was just my critical eye coming into play to look at the big picture. But was it the right time and place to be analyzing and critiquing? In all of our conversations about asking questions and trying to look deeply, we never discussed the idea of sometimes shutting off the constant analysis. That concept has been one I struggled with all week in St. Louis. Are there moments when critique and the search for deeper meaning become inappropriate? The positive side of me want to say of course and keep believing that everything in the world can be beautiful,  but the analytical side wants to say no and keep digging deeper into the problems we see. It has been hard to balance since sometimes one personality likes to take a stronger hold, but as I’ve learned from living with fourteen other people, compromise is key.

Change is Difficult

By: Elizabeth McDonald

I’m not going to lie. After having such life-changing experiences at NOLS and Pine Ridge, I can’t help but feel a tug at my heart by the lack of self-evolvement I’ve undergone during this week of service. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the work we did or that I didn’t learn anything this week because both of those statements would be unture. Perhaps, my expectations were too high in thinking that every week of service would somehow help to shape a part of me. That being said, I’m at somewhat of a lack of words to describe how I’m feeling right now so will return to the basics and simply provide two journal entries from this week.

Sep 21- Change is difficult. Today was our first day of service in St. Louis. Perhaps due to the impending sickness that is spreading amongst the 15 of us, something felt off this morning. We hit some traffic on our way to the garden, showing up a little late but the people didn’t seem to mind. They gave us an introduction about the organizations that partnered with the garden which was really cool. We then started harvesting vegetables. We picked zucchini, squash, tomatoes and okra. It was fun to see all the vegetables go from stem, to getting cleaned and ready to take. We also helped get the beds ready for winter which included covering them with composted dirt. That was fairly labor intensive but didn’t last for long, which is good. We finished around 11:30, had a quick debrief with the clients and then had lunch. Afterward, we headed over to an elementary school and gardened there for the afternoon. I worked mainly on taking out weeds, which was tedious. It was very hot but we did get the opportunity to work with some first graders which was really cool. I think it’s awesome that they’re educating kids about the importance of eating healthy and also giving them the chance to help out in the garden. We got finished around 4:30 so I went for a run at a park nearby (super nice and shady!). After showering, dinner was ready which was grilled cheese, tomato soup and salad. It was nice to see a majority of us share a meal together. After dinner, we had our meeting and I really enjoyed some of the topics we discussed. One topic was how to personally adapt to people in any environment.  After the meeting, some of us played a board game before going to bed. Overall, today was a pretty good day. I think I’ve learned that the first day at any new place is going to be somewhat difficult due to all the adjustments but I hope to gain confidence in the unknown. All for now.

Sep 24- As expected, last night was a very late night. We didn’t get home from the event until around 11:30 and then had to be up by 6:30 this morning so I’m still pretty tired. I was able to talk to mom and dad yesterday which was really nice. I love to hear about what’s going on in their lives. Mom heads to Portland this weekend, Dad is still in negotiation with the box company, Charlie has a busy Saturday and Michael finds out his ACT score Friday. I was also able to go for a run before we left for the “event” around 2:30. We were all dressed in our best, which for most of us included jeans and a nice(r) t-shirt. We went to the Food Outreach Headquarters first which gave us an overview of what that organization did. We then went to the Museum of Contemporary Art to set up for the event. The event itself was basically a charity dinner. Guests paid $100 for a six-course meal. They rotated tables every 20 minutes for the next course. As volunteers, we set up the event, became the wait staff and then helped to clean up. None of us had any experience in this area but as a whole I think we did a pretty good job rolling with the punches of the evening. It was a very interesting experience, to say the least. The stark contrast between the physical labor we did at Pine Ridge and the hands-in-the-dirt work we’d been doing in St. Louis made me personally feel very out of place. The people attending the event displayed little interest as us as individuals but overall, the experience definitely gave me a new perspective of non-profit life. By the end, we were all pretty exhausted. All for now.